Child looking into net.

Is this Water Toxic, Mommy?

Late last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality took turns sparring over clean water permits.

On Dec. 2, EPA noted in a press release that the state agency "has a significant number of draft Clean Water Act discharge permits [80] which have not been issued pending resolution of various concerns raised by EPA." And, many of the draft permits were delayed due to issues regarding the toxicity of the discharges, EPA added. The agency set a six-month deadline for TCEQ to issue to overdue discharge permits.

“We are taking a stand for clean water. The streams, lakes, and bayous of our great state deserve to be protected from chemicals, bacteria, and toxic metals,” said EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz. “Our children and future generations should be able to swim and fish anywhere in the state without worries about pollution.”

In response, TCEQ's Dec. 3 release called EPA's use of a press release "perplexing," noting that the state is proposing "other, more restrictive permit requirements, which have not yet been implemented because of EPA's unwillingness to work cooperatively on an effective solution for toxicity requirements."

The state agency accounted for the errant permits. "Currently the EPA has in house, at its offices in Dallas, proposed toxicity limits for several permits subject to renewal. These draft solutions for toxicity limits were forwarded to EPA and are pending review and approval by EPA. The EPA and TCEQ staff have been working closely on this toxicity issue for many years and are in the final stages of agreeing on permit language. With respect to other permits included on EPA's list of objections, we believe it is important to not blindly accept comments received from EPA but to carefully consider the technical merits of each one and work together to develop protective permits. "

The Texas agency threw this barb in for good measure: "Interestingly, EPA took nine years to approve all of the 2000 Texas Surface Water Quality Standards, the foundation for water quality protection in the state, even though the Clean Water Act deadline is 60 days to approve and 90 days to disapprove."

Was EPA trying to undermine progress as TCEQ suggests? I do find EPA's playing of the "children" card to be more in keeping with environmental group tactics, not those of a professional regulatory agency. Was this press release part of the new transparency?

And what about the slow progress from the state? Do you think they are having a party in Austin or is the process of developing lethal and sublethal toxicity limits in Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System just a little complicated?

Bottom line: Regulatory agencies should not use public sentiment to create more friction and develop sides. They have enough to do as it is. Get back to work and try talking directly to each other. Do it for the children.

Posted by L.K. Williams, EPonline on Dec 08, 2010